North and South Korea stand their ground as deadline looms

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N. Korea's Getting Ready For War

North and South Korea appeared headed toward another clash, as Seoul refused an ultimatum that it halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts by Saturday afternoon or face military action, and North Korea said its troops were on a war footing.

South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo said on Friday it was likely the North would fire at some of the 11 sites where the loudspeakers are set up on the South's side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the countries.

Tension escalated on Thursday when North Korea fired four shells into South Korea, according to Seoul, in apparent protest against the broadcasts. The South fired back 29 artillery shells. Pyongyang accused the South of inventing a pretext to fire into the North.

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Both sides said there were no casualties or damage in their territory, an indication that the rounds were just warning shots.

"The fact that both sides' shells didn't damage anything means they did not want to spread an armed clash. There is always a chance for war, but that chance is very, very low," said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, Pyongyang and Seoul have often exchanged threats, and dozens of soldiers have been killed, yet the two sides have always pulled back from all-out war.

But the renewed hostility is a further blow to South Korean President Park Geun-hye's efforts to improve North-South ties, which have been virtually frozen since the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy ship, which Seoul blames on Pyongyang.

Park canceled an event on Friday and made a visit to a military command post, dressed in army camouflage.

Both sides traded harsh rhetoric late on Friday.

See photos of tensions between the Koreas:

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North and South Korea stand their ground as deadline looms
South Korean protesters with defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and North Korean flags shout slogans during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean army soldier patrols at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a television news program reporting about South Korea's respond to the North with a file video footage at Seoul train station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at a South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. The letters read "South Korean military, respond 155mm shells to the North." (Kim Do-hun/Yonhap via AP)
South Korean army soldiers stand guard at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters with defaced portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shout slogans during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. The letters at right read: "Explode the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il !" (AP Photo/Julie Yoon)
A South Korean protester burns a portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a propaganda movie showing soldiers line up in front of their tanks shown on a large screen in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. North Korea on Friday declared its frontline troops in a "a quasi-state of war" after the north and south accusing each other of firing at each other across the world's most heavily armed border. The Korean on the screen reads: "The man who offends the dignity of Korea." (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
South Korean army soldiers walk on the way to returning to their base after a patrol, in Paju, south of the demilitarized zone that divides the two Koreas, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. South Korea fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed several rounds across the world's most heavily armed border and threatened to take further action unless Seoul ends its loudspeaker broadcasts. The North denied it fired any shots and warned of retaliation for what it called a serious provocation. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters burn an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a North Korean flag during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean anti-war protesters stage a rally demanding peace and reunification of the Korean peninsula near the presidential house in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Julie Yoon)
A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is burnt by South Korean protesters during an anti-North Korean rally in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. The North leader on Friday declared his frontline troops in a "quasi-state of war" and ordered them to prepare for battle a day after the most serious confrontation between the rivals in years. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man locks a shutter of his shop after an evacuation order is issued to the residents and visitors at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at a South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP)
A South Korean soldier uses a radio on a military vehicle at the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP) 
Residents carry emergency goods to a shelter at the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at Yeoncheon, the South's Defense ministry said. About 80 residents in the town where the shell fell were evacuated to underground bunkers, and authorities urged other residents to evacuate, a Yeoncheon official said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP)
Residents gather at a shelter in Yeoncheon, the South Korean town where the shell fell in South Korea Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the South Korean border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (Hong Hae-in/Yonhap via AP) 
South Korean government officials deliver emergency food as residents gather at a shelter in the South Korean town of Yeoncheon where the shell fell Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean residents gather at a shelter in the South Korean town of Yeoncheon where the shell fell Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015. South Korea's military fired dozens of shells Thursday at rival North Korea after the North lobbed a single artillery round at the border town, the South's Defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans as they hold up defaced North Korean flags and images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally denouncing North Korea in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans with a banner showing defaced images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, late his father Kim Jong Il, center, and Kim Il Sung, the late founder of North Korea, during a rally denouncing North Korea, in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Members of the Korean Disabled Veterans Association by Agent Orange in Vietnam War, shout slogans as they hold mock North Korean flags and defaced images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a rally denouncing the North Korea in front of the Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, north of Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015. South Korea restarted propaganda broadcasts across the border with rival North Korea on Monday for the first time in 11 years in retaliation for the North allegedly planting land mines last week that maimed two South Korean soldiers. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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The North committed "cowardly criminal acts," South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said. "This time, I will make sure to sever the vicious cycle of North Korea's provocations."

The North's official KCNA news agency said its military was not bluffing.

SOUTH SAYS WON'T STOP BROADCASTS

The North's shelling came after it had demanded last weekend that South Korea end the broadcasts or face military action - a relatively rare case of following up on its frequent threats against the South.

Its 48-hour ultimatum, delivered in a letter to the South Korean Defense Ministry, was also uncharacteristically specific, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul. The deadline is around 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday in Seoul.

South Korea began blasting anti-North propaganda from loudspeakers on the border on Aug. 10, resuming a tactic both sides had stopped in 2004, days after landmines wounded two South Korean soldiers along the DMZ.

North Korea on Monday began its own broadcasts.

Baek told parliament the South's broadcasts would continue unless the North accepted responsibility and apologized for the mines. Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

"There is a high possibility that North Korea will attack loudspeaker facilities," Baek said.

KCNA said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had declared a "quasi-state of war" in frontline areas.

There were indications the North was preparing to fire short-range missiles, the South's Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed government source. The North often fires rockets into the sea during annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which are currently under way.

The U.S. military, which bases 28,500 personnel in South Korea, said it was monitoring the situation.

Washington earlier urged Pyongyang to halt "provocative" actions after Thursday's exchange of fire, the first between the two Koreas since October.

Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group think-tank said the large U.S. troop presence in the South for the military exercises could reduce the risk of escalation by pressuring the South to exercise restraint, and as a deterrent to the North.

"This is a bad time to pick a fight with the South while it has all these resources there," he said.


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